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FILM: The Dark Knight (2008)

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The Dark Knight (2008), directed by Christopher Nolan. 

 

dark knight titles.jpg

 

I write this review at the risk of coming off as an unintentional contrarian, given that this is an extremely popular film and one that is admired by many. I give every movie its fair chance, and always try to critique a film from a purely subjective stance. I’m pointing this out because The Dark Knight is not a masterpiece and is incredibly flawed. While it is not necessarily a bad film, it is far from Nolan’s best work and from consideration for one of the best superhero movies in general. 

 

The best and most effective part of the film is Heath Ledger as the Joker. I don’t think there’s anything I can say about his performance that hasn’t already been repeated a hundred times before. He is so engrossing, so unrecognizable in this film; his posthumous Oscar win was much deserved. In an overlong and overly ponderous film, the sense of anarchy and unpredictability his character brings comes as a refreshing breeze in the midst of it all. The film instantly and regrettably loses all sense of forward momentum after the Joker leaves the picture. 

 

The rest of the cast is fine, but I feel many aren’t properly utilized to their full potential. Bale feels more confident and has a greater presence this time around than he does in Batman Begins, but, like Keaton back in ‘89, feels overshadowed in his titular role by the Joker. Maggie Gyllenhaal plays a noncharacter, and makes little impression with her screentime. Eckhart is fine as Dent, even if he ups the hamminess a bit after his change to Two-Face. Caine is excellent as the longsuffering butler Alfred, and Oldman and Freeman are both good in their roles. 

 

The Dark Knight, on a technical level, is an impressive achievement. While the film overall lacks the gothic undertones that define the original Burton films (and, to a lesser degree, Batman Begins), the film overall makes excellent use of its limited color palette and is very well shot by DP Wally Pfister. It is a great-looking, very cinematic film. While much of the action choreography leaves much to be desired, there are a handful of well executed and memorable chase scenes. 

 

Zimmer and Howard's score, while not exactly a pleasant listening experience on its own, is brilliantly effective in creating a tangible atmosphere and tone throughout the film.

 

The script, I feel, is ultimately very lacking. The Joker’s motivations come to mind; supposedly, the character does have an end goal, but it's very contrived and convoluted, and some pretty darn big plot conveniences really make you suspend your disbelief. There are many points in the film that make you question how the Joker is "ahead of the curve" so much and so frequently, that he has the most calculated, pin-point accuracy of what and where everything is, how it will unfold, and what his next move will be. Much of the dialogue is problematic as well; it often feels forced, and comes off as Nolan’s own intellect getting in the way of creating natural conversations. Much of the film explores various sociocultural and philosophical themes; the corruption of morality, the ideals of virtue, the downfall of justice and the rise of anarchy. Yet these themes don’t feel fully explored, and feel more like a lecture on ethics that occasionally cuts back to being a story. It honestly comes off as a bit pretentious. 

 

There are, indeed, a great many things to admire in Nolan’s production, but I feel they don’t add up to anything terribly impressive, or meaningful. The result is more muddled than meditative, vague rather than profound; like a lone soul, muttering pretensions and ruminating to itself in the dark...

 

** and 1/2 out of *****

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2 hours ago, John said:

Much of the film explores various sociocultural and philosophical themes; the corruption of morality, the ideals of virtue, the downfall of justice and the rise of anarchy. Yet these themes don’t feel fully explored, and feel more like a lecture on ethics that occasionally cuts back to being a story. It honestly comes off as a bit pretentious. 

 

There are, indeed, a great many things to admire in Nolan’s production, but I feel they don’t add up to anything terribly impressive, or meaningful. The result is more muddled than meditative, vague rather than profound; like a lone soul, muttering pretensions and ruminating to itself in the dark...

The film presents a stylized vision of reality, but I don't think it is shallow or artificial, or pretentious for doing this.  The themes don't need to be fully explored.  They are simply embodied by the characters, even if they pontificate maybe a tad too much.  But, the dialogue should not be ultra-naturalistic, not in a superhero movie like this.    I think it walks the line between full-blown intellectual treatise and exciting blockbuster very well, actually.  It is neither muddled nor meditative, neither vague nor profound.  It is what it is.  It has a moral theme, but is still primarily meant to entertain.  And most, high brow and low brow, responded.  


I concede two major weaknesses.  Dent's turn to evil is not well-written.  We should have seen some flaws in him before.  And Rachel is, indeed, a blank slate. 

But, as for your last line, well, Bruce and The Joker are both lone souls in the dark.  Lone souls mutter and ruminate.  It's what they do.   

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On 3/6/2019 at 9:05 PM, SteveMc said:

The themes don't need to be fully explored.  They are simply embodied by the characters, even if they pontificate maybe a tad too much. 

 

This is perhaps my biggest issue with the film. Characters and their development take a backseat to Nolan's themes and ideas, which even then are not fully expounded upon. Much like the Matrix sequels in a way. It makes the end result seem hollow and a bit soulless, when you don’t have any realistic characters to root for. 

 

It is not exclusive to The Dark Knight either. It's a recurring issue throughout Nolan's filmography.

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Interesting.

 

To me, the issue of this film is that its much more overtly a "Batman" film: there's much less of Bruce - without the suit - in this film. As a result, one of the most meaningful relationships of this trilogy - that of Bruce and Alfred - is sidelined.

 

Speaking of character relationship: strangely enough, the one that feels most authentic in this film is the one between Rachel and Harvey - not her and Bruce.

 

I will give it a ***** out of *****, but (unlike what the IMDB list would have you believe) I'll say there are a lot of much better films to have earned that grade from me.

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15 hours ago, John said:

The script, I feel, is ultimately very lacking. The Joker’s motivations come to mind; supposedly, the character does have an end goal, but it's very contrived and convoluted, and some pretty darn big plot conveniences really make you suspend your disbelief. There are many points in the film that make you question how the Joker is "ahead of the curve" so much and so frequently, that he has the most calculated, pin-point accuracy of what and where everything is, how it will unfold, and what his next move will be. Much of the dialogue is problematic as well; it often feels forced, and comes off as Nolan’s own intellect getting in the way of creating natural conversations. Much of the film explores various sociocultural and philosophical themes; the corruption of morality, the ideals of virtue, the downfall of justice and the rise of anarchy. Yet these themes don’t feel fully explored, and feel more like a lecture on ethics that occasionally cuts back to being a story. It honestly comes off as a bit pretentious. 

 

There are, indeed, a great many things to admire in Nolan’s production, but I feel they don’t add up to anything terribly impressive, or meaningful. The result is more muddled than meditative, vague rather than profound; like a lone soul, muttering pretensions and ruminating to itself in the dark...

 

** and 1/2 out of *****

I'm sorry to say that, but that's a lot of bullshit you wrote there.

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15 minutes ago, Brundlefly said:

I'm sorry to say that, but that's a lot of bullshit you wrote there.

 

You just keep telling yourself that. 

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1 hour ago, Brundlefly said:

I'm sorry to say that, but that's a lot of bullshit you wrote there.

@John is a lot kinder to this film, than I would be.

 

51 minutes ago, John said:

 

You just keep telling yourself that. 

What do you expect, John? The boy's barely legal.

 

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On 3/8/2019 at 9:07 PM, Brundlefly said:

I know, you're famous here for having weird opinions (aka Schindler's List and Jurassic Park have bad scores).

Mr. Fly, where is your evidence for suggesting that I think that these films have bad scores? I've said that I don't like them. There's a difference.

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On 3/10/2019 at 4:08 PM, Richard said:

Mr. Fly, where is your evidence for suggesting that I think that these films have bad scores? I've said that I don't like them. There's a difference.

Thank you for pointing that out. My bad.

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I like all three Nolan Batman films they're awesome.  I especially love Heath Ledger's Joker.  I however really dislike Zimmer's / JNH's scores on these...to me they're just noise.

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I really like Batman Begins. The action isn't as polished as in Nolan's later films, and its got his usual overly-talkiness, but its got a big heart. Nolan isn't afraid to show Bruce's parents dying and then dwell on it for two or three minutes unabridged.

 

Now that's drama!

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In some ways, yes.

 

I actually feel the same - in some respects - of The Dark Knight Rises. I just like the Bruce/Alfred dynamic, and The Dark Knight has so very little of it. In the other two, its part of the film's emotional core.

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20 hours ago, JoeinAR said:

Im old school Batman so making him a ninja warrior came across as stupid as hell. Still does for me.

 

You prefer the mystery, I understand that. Nolan wanted to explain where the Bats got his moves from. Demystify it.  At first, I wasn't too happy with that either, but now I'm okay with it. Nolan created his own Batman universe, which sets it apart from the one we are or were familiar with.

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As the oldest here I have the most nostalgia. I am guilty of Romanticizing Batman as a masked detective. That period is over. I must accept the new while still embracing the past.

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I have a friend who made the argument, after watching this movie a few years ago, that The Dark Knight is just as dated as the 1989 film. But rather than the trappings, such as Prince, he argued that The Dark Knight, with its particular flavor of nihilism, anarchy, and chaos, is dated on a deeper, thematic level (my friend had always been a part of the punk counterculture scene, the apex of his involvement being around the time this movie came out). I can agree with him.

 

It's not a bad movie, and I respect some of what it sets out to do: for example, the scene where everyone freaks out as the Joker burns all that cash. Stuff like that asks the question: is the Joker nuts, or are we "normal" citizens the crazy ones for allowing so much of our lives and our society to be dictated by these constructs?

 

But god_damn_, do these characters never shut up about the themes and what the movie's about. I seem to remember the scene where the Joker is monologuing to Harvey Dent, immobilized in the hospital, about how all of his actions contributed to his desire for chaos and how they prove his point. The dude--the screenwriters by proxy?--just feels like they're so witty, it's like, "Dude, shut up!" There's a similar scene in Batman Begins when Bruce and Alfred are on an airplane and they're talking about how they need to create a symbol of fear or something like that...it's so explicit, it makes me laugh when I think about it. 

 

For all of its supposed campiness and cartooniness, Batman Returns handles its themes in a much more effective, and cinematically engaging--and yes, subtle--way.

2 hours ago, JoeinAR said:

As the oldest here I have the most nostalgia. I am guilty of Romanticizing Batman as a masked detective. That period is over. I must accept the new while still embracing the past.

 

I never read the comics, but wasn't Batman's ninja training established for many decades?

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14 minutes ago, Nick Parker said:

I have a friend who made the argument, after watching this movie a few years ago, that The Dark Knight is just as dated as the 1989 film. But rather than the trappings, such as Prince, he argued that The Dark Knight, with its particular flavor of nihilism, anarchy, and chaos, is dated on a deeper, thematic level (my friend had always been a part of the punk counterculture scene, the apex of his involvement being around the time this movie came out). I can agree with him.

 

It's not a bad movie, and I respect some of what it sets out to do: for example, the scene where everyone freaks out as the Joker burns all that cash. Stuff like that asks the question: is the Joker nuts, or are we "normal" citizens the crazy ones for allowing so much of our lives and our society to be dictated by these constructs?

 

But god_damn_, do these characters never shut up about the themes and what the movie's about. I seem to remember the scene where the Joker is monologuing to Harvey Dent, immobilized in the hospital, about how all of his actions contributed to his desire for chaos and how they prove his point. The dude--the screenwriters by proxy?--just feels like they're so witty, it's like, "Dude, shut up!" There's a similar scene in Batman Begins when Bruce and Alfred are on an airplane and they're talking about how they need to create a symbol of fear or something like that...it's so explicit, it makes me laugh when I think about it. 

 

For all of its supposed campiness and cartooniness, Batman Returns handles its themes in a much more effective, and cinematically engaging--and yes, subtle--way.

 

I never read the comics, but wasn't Batman's ninja training established for many decades?

As I pointed out I am the oldest here. I used to have the Detective Comics #27 thanks to my grandfather. I grew up with the 60's tv show. That version didn't use Ninja abilities, and inthe late 30's and 40's emulating anything Japanese was a no-no. 

I have dealt with it but I still don't  care for BB. My husband loves it and the Dark Knight. He hates the 3rd but i like it okay. I hate the score for DK. Its Hanz Zimmer so it sucks, but damn it really takes bad scoring to a new level.

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Just now, JoeinAR said:

As I pointed out I am the oldest here. I used to have the Detective Comics #27 thanks to my grandfather. I grew up with the 60's tv show. That version didn't use Ninja abilities, and inthe late 30's and 40's emulating anything Japanese was a no-no. 

 

Mm, that makes a lot of sense. 

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As his hair thinned, Heath gave some weird memorable performances in the last couple years of his life including an aging surfer dude in Lords of Dogtown and the remarkably similar take on The Joker. What a tragic waste.

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TDK looks like Heat.

 

It's entertaining enough. These are Batman movies where the viewer would never under any circumstances want to be Batman. Previous versions were a lot cooler. Michael Keaton balanced the psychological damage with a cool universe to toy around in, the ultimate car, neat gadgets and sexy ass blonde women.

 

Christian Bale is very monotone and lacks charisma in the role, and despite the greater emphasis on Bruce Wayne/Batman than, say, the Tim Burton movies, TDK makes up for this shortcoming with its supporting characters. It also has a really cool chase scene where the movie very briefly lets its hair down. More than anything, that scene makes me wish Nolan would do breezier popcorn movies.

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TDK is about as dark and disturbing as an ice cream sundae. What it is, is sick.

 

 

 

20 hours ago, Ghostbusters II said:

TDK looks like Heat.

No it doesn't. HEAT is a brilliantly framed, and shot, film. TDK is neither.

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21 hours ago, Ghostbusters II said:

Christian Bale is very monotone and lacks charisma in the role

He takes Batman seriously, which is a good thing.  But, he takes himself too seriously, which is a problem.

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1 hour ago, John said:

Really? I would say TDK, if nothing else, is a great-looking and very well shot film. 

 

The switching from anamorphic to IMAX distracts me, and not just because of the aspect ratio, but because anamorphic has a different look to it that's distinct from any spherical lenses.

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51 minutes ago, SteveMc said:

He takes Batman seriously, which is a good thing.  But, he takes himself too seriously, which is a problem.

 

He's more sympathetic and relatable in the third movie. It feels more like a movie about Batman while TDK was about The Joker, the mayor, Two-Face, other baddies, the milkman, ...

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23 minutes ago, Alexcremers said:

 

He's more sympathetic and relatable in the third movie. It feels more like a movie about Batman while TDK was about The Joker, the mayor, Two-Face, other baddies, the milkman, ...

 

That was my impression of TDK too where Batman/Bruce felt like a guest star in his own movie.

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6 hours ago, John said:

Really? I would say TDK, if nothing else, is a great-looking and very well shot film. 

 

Its a good-looking film, to be sure.

 

Some of the final action scene (as most of Nolan's action coverage prior to Inception) is framed too tightly, I thought.

 

The cinematographical qualities of the film didn't wow me outright, I have to say.

 

5 hours ago, dougie said:

The switching from anamorphic to IMAX distracts me, and not just because of the aspect ratio, but because anamorphic has a different look to it that's distinct from any spherical lenses.

 

From memory, there are also a few VistaVision shots in the film. Personally, I'm too absorbed into the film to notice, but I get how it can be distracting.

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On 3/12/2019 at 12:02 PM, JoeinAR said:

Im old school Batman so making him a ninja warrior came across as stupid as hell. Still does for me.

 

I didn't really like this either. The reveal that Liam Neeson is Al Ghoul is completely pointless. I also thought the whole idea of this league that's out to destroy Gotham City is just fucking stupid.

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9 hours ago, dougie said:

I suppose geeks in the 2000s were demanding to know how Bruce Wayne became such a skilled fighter.

 

You think Nolan made Batman Begins based on the wishes of geeks? And that it had nothing to do with Nolan's idea to bring Batman into the realm of realism? 

 

 

:eh:

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On 3/20/2019 at 3:18 PM, Stefancos said:

I find TDK to looks polished but sterile. Very little of it moves me visually. The Dark Knight Rises is a lot better in that regard.

I think it works very well with the themes of the film. The cold and geometric Chicago landscape is invaded by the figure of chaos that is the Joker. It's a rather clever visual solution, I thought.

 

I think people get too caught up in the mechanics/logic of the plot. Yes, Joker's plan doesn't really make a whole lot of sense. But this is sort of the point. He's an almost supernatural entity in this mostly very mundane and almost realistic place. I always assumed this was purely intentional. He's a not a character in the strictest sense. As Nolan himself pointed out once, he's the shark in Jaws -- a force of nature. Who he is and what he wants doesn't really matter. This film is not about him at all.

 

Yes, Nolan has a tendency to spell out a lot of things. But I bet this is a requirement if you want to make a film this dense for 200 million dollars. You don't get to be too sophisticated. Hence, the compromise. It's not ideal but...

 

Karol

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